Before I venture out to review this show, I'm warned by my boss that 'Ghost Stories' is supposed to be 'very scary'. I'm not that easily frightened, so I'm not exactly shaking in my boots as I arrive for the show, but I certainly have a sense of apprehension. Entering the theatre, things seem odd. Hazard tape is plastered everywhere together with bits of torn plastic as though we're wandering into a building awaiting demolition, and there are numbers scrawled on the walls. Eerie sound effects are playing – howling wind and that sort of stuff – and by the time we get into the auditorium the lights are so dim we're stumbling over each other to get to our seats. The rest of the audience seem to be already on the edge of theirs. If the lighting wasn't so dim, you'd almost be able to see the anticipation arcing through the stalls. Nervous giggling adds another dimension to the already crammed soundscape as we wait for the curtain. So far, so good.
The show actually starts with more of a whimper than a bang. A professor fetches up to give us a lecture about the paranormal, shows us a few interesting photos and proceeds to play a collection of recorded interviews which then morph into action on the stage. The sets are sufficient for purpose rather than being spectacular, but they do employ neat revolves which give alternate views of the scenes. As you might expect, a substantial amount of the action takes place in the dark which gives the opportunity for tricks with torches which work well. The obligatory smoke effect pours off the stage at one point, but that's not exactly novel since it's used in almost every production I see.
Building tension is the key element in this genre, and that takes time. But it's unnecessarily protracted here. I almost found myself falling asleep in the first story waiting for something to happen. When the (supposedly) scary bits do eventually arrive – and there are very few of them - they are hardly worth the wait. I certainly heard far more screaming at 'The Lord Of The Rings' when the orcs poured out to torment the stalls.
With a running time of about 80 mins with no interval, 'Ghost Stories' is just about as short as you can make a West End show before people start asking for their money back. At the end, we're implored not to give away the secrets of the show. I'm happy to comply in terms of the storylines, but the biggest secret of all I am happy to divulge: it's about as scary as an afternoon in the park with Bambi. True, there are moments which make you jump, but that's not terribly hard to do, especially when half the audience are geared-up to scream themselves to death, or wet their pants, or both. They never come close to getting the chance to do either, and like me, I suspect that the majority of the audience left feeling let down, disappointed and wondering what all the fuss was about.